Made For The W Highlights The History Of Women’s Basketball With Exclusive Hat Collection

Made For The W Highlights The History Of Women’s Basketball With Exclusive Hat Collection
Photo Credit: Yvette Glasco

When Melani Carter and Simran Kaleka co-founded Made For The W in 2018, they aimed to establish a platform that was centered around women’s sports. At the time–and in many instances still existing today–there was a lack of support on the women’s side both in front of and behind the camera. For years, female athletes have excelled not only in their respective crafts, but have also become drivers of style, fashion, and popular culture. The two entrepreneurs have been able to highlight the importance, as well as the history of WNBA with their collaboration with Lids, “Forever Stamped: A Champions Mark.”

Now in its second year, this fitted hat collection is an ode to past and present legends of the WNBA. The limited edition hats feature 11 iconic teams, each stitched with a uniquely customized championship patch. With their first drop in December 2022, the brand’s founders set out to chronicle the figures and narratives of women’s basketball, and hopefully impact the landscape of sports as a whole. “We wanted to make a stamp in this industry,” says Carter. “But the storytelling piece was so significant to us, because it allowed us to introduce the original eight WNBA teams that started the league, and it was also our introduction, and showing that because these women walked, we were able to run with this—that’s why this was so special to start with.”

Made For The W Highlights The History Of Women’s Basketball With Exclusive Hat Collection

The brand’s first edition sold out within 45 minutes, which served as a testament to the product’s global demand, regardless of gender. “For us, it’s about equaling the playing field of making something that men and women both would want to wear,” Kaleka tells ESSENCE. With Made For The W being a brand that was created to bring visibility to women’s sports, specifically to women’s basketball, this groundbreaking collaboration was fitting, to say the least.

“I think the best part of it is that we were able to create something that paid homage to the living legends that we grew up watching, loving,” Kaleka says. “And to be able to create something to gift those women and to literally tip our hats off to them, in real time, is something that I think as little girls, we could have only dreamed of.”

“Forever Stamped: A Champions Mark,” the second partnership between Made For The W and Lids releases on Tuesday, May 14th, on the LidsHD website at 12 PM ET as well as in Lids HD stores, select Lids Flagships, and the NBA Store NYC & HTX.

ESSENCE: What sparked the creation of this company?

Melani Carter: With both of us respectively working in sports—I started on the production side and—it was about seeing just the lack of what was going on when it came down to women both in front and behind the scenes, but also in women’s sports. I wanted to change it and wanted to figure out different ways to get shows and things done, but people just didn’t see it at the time. And so Sim and I, we met, and we would just go back and talk about different things, how we wanted to change the trajectory of where we saw women, and just even building an ecosystem, and what that even looked like. And so, eventually, after we met, we would start Made for the W.

Simran Kaleka: I think on my end, because I also worked in sports, on the men’s side, for so long, for sports agencies and all our clients being NBA players or overseas players, you saw nothing but men being elevated and celebrated. So I think the lack of presence and visibility for women in sports, it really put something purposeful for us to have to figure out.

MC: A lot of it was also that people didn’t really understand how to market women at the time. And the reason why, because there was just a lack of diversity and the lack of, also, inclusion of us in these spaces. We didn’t want to come out just doing what we saw traditionally happen with these legacy brands. It was more about how we can really make a stamp and a staple in this industry. 

We really figured it out, and did a lot of research. I remember being in my mom’s living room, writing down things and doing these case studies. We wanted to start in women’s sports, but specifically women’s basketball and the WNBA, because we felt at the time was the most underrepresented. That was the start of where we would go with Made for the W.

How did you two meet and what did you each see in each other that made you want to connect as business partners?

SK: We met at a Pro-Am in Atlanta that we were both a part of, and our energy just meshed. We were locked in from that very first day. I think it’s just how we worked in this space and understanding the dynamics of sports and really loving the game. I think that’s a big thing, but also how we view the world and how we view how women need to be seen.

We just had a lot of similarities and alignment with how things should be elevated, how they should be seen, how people should be given platforms. And it literally was just conversations that me and Mel were having  in my living room in 2016. Fast-forward, 2018 came about. And it was just the right place, at the right time. It was literally a passion project that we were like, “Okay, let’s make this happen.”

Can you speak to your upcoming collaboration with Lids, and how did that initial partnership come about?

MC: So I had this hat, it was a snapback, and it was of the Houston Comets and their championship they won in 2000. I thrifted it maybe six or seven years ago, I can’t remember. But, at the time I would just wear it. And so, every time I wore the hat, I would get people stopping me. And it was this one particular time, my mom was helping me move into one of my apartments. And this guy got on the elevator and he was just like, “Yo, I’ve never seen that. I was reading it and I thought it was a Braves hat.”

So I started doing some research on the fitted hat situations, and a lot of people were saying, “We want to see this on fitteds, why hasn’t the league brought anything out with fitteds?” Maybe about two or three years later, two prominent designers in Atlanta were making noise in the hat industry, And I remember just thinking about the hat that I would wear and how people would gravitate towards it. 

And so I remember going to them and just saying, “Yo, I have an idea.” I ran the idea by them and they were just like, “Well, I think it’s dope, but I don’t know if they’re going to gravitate towards it.” Respectfully, they didn’t know if the industry would be ready for it. Later on, I was able to get in contact with the president at Lids, at the tail end of 2020, going into ‘21. And so, they were able to set up a call and I was able to pitch the idea. 

And so I was able to talk with him, and he listened to the pitch, but he was like, “Yeah, I don’t know. We have products.” Kobe had just worn the orange hoodie and they wanted to push that specific product. They wanted to push logo hats with snapbacks. They thought it was just great to have an all-orange cap and all this or whatever. And I respectfully was like, “I like your idea, but I can’t be a part of it if we can’t roll with what we want to do.” Because the mindset was attention to detail, storytelling, but also just making some cool, fly stuff for women. 

So, I didn’t think the partnership was going to happen, but then I randomly got an email, and they were just like, “Hey, people want to buy into—let’s run with it.” So I remember calling Sim and I was telling her this whole situation, and how they were ready to start designing and putting it on market. And this was the first time that we would introduce fitted hats for any women’s sports teams ever, and that is essentially how it started.

SK: I think what Mel touched on is when it comes to what women get, whether it’s merch, whether it’s hats, whatever it is, is that it’s underserved and it’s undersaturated. 

And for us, it’s about equaling the playing field of making something that men and women both would equally want to wear, that there’s a demand for it, that there’s a crowd waiting for something to get that we can finally feel like, oh, okay, we made something that is embedded in women’s sports, specifically women’s basketball.

MC: And a lot of times, the product that we saw on this side was more so the novelty tees. And again, it’s a time and a place for that. I’m not downing that. But there was no nostalgic wear, or anything to really wear in the moment. I feel like on the men’s side when they win championships or when your favorite player’s going off, you can go somewhere and it’s accessible. And so, to not be able to have something that we can just look back and think of as collector’s items was kind of crazy to me. 

So, after we were able to do the first collab, that was something that we never thought would happen. I mean, we sold out online within 45 minutes. That was a record time. And ever since that drop in 2022, we’ve been getting questions about the next drop. And so, Lids approached. And this time, the second release, there was a bigger hands-on approach with more of the storytelling. 

The first time we introduced fitted hats. This time we’re introducing the first-ever championship patches. It’s something that we can give to these players that we adore, but for them to just really have a sense of belonging. Winning a championship is not the easiest thing, and you should never take that lightly. You should always be celebrated. 

And so, for fans, casual fans, consumers and newbies to be able to share that experience of being able to really show off for their team, is such a beautiful thing. And even just the attention to detail of how we utilize the models that we picked and the influencers, and just how everyone is gravitating towards the marketing campaign is something special. So I’m really excited about our drop on May 14.

SK: And we got to have our logo stitched In the back, so that was super special as well. 

MC: It’s a super limited release and it won’t come back again. That’s the fun part about it. We will be online this year, and we will also be in six stores—that’s the beauty about demand, right?

I don’t think we’ve ever seen hats being sold in this way. I’ve never seen it marketed this way, especially women-led, and the demand, not just for women but for men as well, and all genders across the board, is really exciting.

What are your feelings about the current state of women’s basketball and where do you see the sport moving in the future?

SK: I think everyone finally has caught on to what we knew all along. And it’s really amazing to see the life that has taken on, overall, everywhere you go. And so many people come up to us because of what we built, and all of a sudden wanting to engage and talk and be tapped into the games and everything that’s going on off the court. It’s crazy. And this was the ultimate goal. So to experience how integral the game of women’s basketball has become, from college to WNBA, is super full circle for what we built. 

And as far as where it’s moving, it’s definitely more dollars, more visibility, more opportunities, and really just bridging the gap of the opportunities that men get. Just being able for women to pop their stuff too and really walk in their truth and exemplify their magic. I think it’s time. It’s been time. We’re past due, so it is amazing and I’m really happy to see it.

MC: For me, women’s basketball has always been the moment. It’s just that now, we’re able to watch it and see it unfold, because now brands are catching up, and the media is now really putting them at the forefront. And again, it’s been time, but I think that’s the beautiful thing about it. Now that we have an equal playing field, sort of, where people are wanting to talk and learn more, it’s only going to grow and get better. 

But like I said, women’s basketball has always been a moment, just like women’s sports has. But this is why it’s important to have different collabs like this, with Lids, so you’re able to show and wear your fandom. You’re able to go and learn more. Because, just even with a commentary of when we released the photos of the side patches yesterday, a lot of people don’t know that Comets went on a four-peat. 

And at the end of the day, this is why this type of stuff is so important for the reminder, but also for the future. I’m just glad people are finally catching up and really wanting to be a part of it.

What do you two hope Made For The W’s influence on the culture will be, ultimately?

SK: I feel like Made for the W will be a seed that was planted, and eventually, I think a whole garden bloomed from it after the fact, the snowball effect of everything that came to life after our inception. But it was a seed that had to be planted to start the conversation, to start the visibility, to start the elevation and the celebration of these women on and off the court. So I feel like if nothing else, Made’s legacy and impact could be the seed that started it all. Not as far as the women’s basketball game goes, but as far as this generation and this time in society, tapping in and actually giving them their flowers in real time.

MC: I will also add, too, that I feel like we actually grew the game, I think we were able to implement what an ecosystem looks like for it to continue to flourish. Because, it wasn’t just about putting attention to the athletes, but it’s about highlighting everyone around it in order to create what it needs to. 

It’s also for creators who couldn’t really find their footing in an industry that said they didn’t belong. Visibility, right? Made for the W is a platform that gives opportunities, and tells everyone that this is a space, these people belong, and I belong. And so, I just really look at it like we gave a chance for the ecosystem to grow.

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